What about the Flag in Church?
|Another comment on "flags
reading the comments of others on the flag issue. My biggest concern
about having an American flag in a church sanctuary is its placement of
prominence to the right of the speaker. According to American flag
protocol, all other flags must be placed to the left, an inferior
position, to give prominence to the American flag.
cross, the symbol of our salvation, is also placed in what flag
protocol would deem to be a lower position of honor. That is what
disturbs me most of all.
|Two more views on
“flags in church”
A discussion about the display of American flags in
church sanctuaries began on this website almost ten years ago, in the
wake of the passions aroused by the terrorist actions of 9/11.
And the discussion continues!
We’ve received two more comments within the past few
days, and are happy to share them here. If you’d like to add your own
just send a note, and we’ll post it here.
First, from Mary, who prefers not to be identified in
any more detail:
When I see the American flag, it reminds me of all
those men and women who died to give us the Freedom of Religion,
Freedom of Speech, and that they did it for God and Country. It
should be in the sanctuary and the people should be taught what this
flag represents. Our great country where you have the right to
practice the freedom of your choice of Religion. It doesn't
undermin[e] God, it show[s] what a country can do when they put God
first. One Nation Under God.
This note comes from “B Cornell,” who lives in
I've just finished reading through the many
comments offered on the subject of American flags being displayed in
churches. Interestingly, I had recently contacted the Session of my
own Presbyterian Church about the fact there was never an American
or Christian or Presbyterian flag in the church sanctuary or
elsewhere in the church I've been attending. I asked for a written
explanation and was called today and told about the discussion at
the Session meeting held last night.
Apparently, several of the Session members felt a
flag would be appropriate. I was told that many Session members had
no real opinion. And, I was told that the church Minister argued
strongly against any flag... apparently insisting the sanctuary was
for religious ceremonies and purposes exclusively. It was determined
that the church would keep with the policy "for now" of not
displaying an American or other flag in the church.
Interestingly however, by virtue of my having
raised the question about flags, the Session members came to realize
that the church sanctuary had NO CROSS in the sanctuary either...
and agreed to explore ways for dealing with the church not having a
cross in the sanctuary.
For my part... I was perplexed by the church not
having or displaying ANY flags anywhere within the church. I had
noticed there not being any American flag anywhere quite some time
ago and stopped and asked one of the church founders of the lack of
flags in the church several months ago. He was surprised by my
question and quickly admitted it was a darn good question. However,
he had obviously not carried my question forward to any other church
It has been perplexing for me to consider the idea
that I've been attending a church which has never had or displayed
an American flag anywhere in the church. Over the years prior to my
joining this church, I've attended services at tens of dozens of
different churches and I still find myself in different churches
every year for weddings and funerals. I have always looked to see
not only IF each church had an American flag... but... whether or
not it was properly and correctly displayed (to the speaker's right
/ audience left). In fact... some twenty five years ago when I met
the minister in the family (Presbyterian) church of the woman I was
marrying, I happened to notice their flags were improperly displayed
(Christian and American flags were on the wrong opposite sides of
the sanctuary) and said something to the Minister. He was
dumbfounded... telling me they had been displayed that way for as
long as he could remember... and asking me if I was sure about the
correct locations ??? I assured him I was right (and I was) and
noticed the next time we were in the church that the flag locations
had been properly switched... and kept switched. The minister
assured me that he had simply never noticed or thought about the
flags... but.. he did see that they were changed... and they were
kept changed after that.
I'm not happy about my church's decision to NOT
have or display either an American or Christian or PCUSA flag(s). I
came to the internet to Google the question and found your site.
Having looked through the several comments posted on your site, (and
intending to follow some of the links and consider the referenced
additional sources), I find myself agreeing with the individual who
suggested that display of our American flag is a reminder that we
live in a nation which was founded on religious freedom. I would add
that as an American with the freedom to worship where and as I
please, I am sufficiently proud and grateful of my Country that I
would regard the display of our American flag as a reminder of those
specially provided and protected freedoms... presented to the world
by our founding fathers as being God-given.
As to the writer who suggested that an American
flag has no more place in our churches than does a Christian Cross
in our courthouses... I would aver that I happen to also be one
who... even as a law school graduate... does not object to the idea
of having The Ten Commandments on display in our court houses... nor
do I question the wisdom of having legislative sessions or public
ceremonies begin with a prayer or blessing. I regard the Ten
Commandments in our courthouses as a "historical" reference
influencing our earliest efforts at building an evolving legal
system envied around the world.
In my opinion... while we are to have separation
of church and state... which I interpret as preventing our
government from imposing any particular religion or belief on any
citizen or group, I worry that those who argue against display of
American flags within any church...are helping and reinforcing the
arguments of those who want all references to any religion or deity
completely removed from all levels of government or any government
funded program. institution or activity.
MY Bottom Line: I see the display of an American
flag in an American church as a silent yet visible appreciation of
the unique religious freedoms we have and uniquely enjoy in America.
After all... Jesus said... pay Cesar what is his.. and while many
have argued over this phrase, its meaning and the context in which
it was given, the fact remains that no church in our nation is
"required" to display any flag. According to the founders of our
nation... God had a hand in what was created and I believe we need
to celebrate and reinforce those claims.. that ours is a nation
brought forth by God.
Another comment on the display of the U.S. flag in church
We've just received this
comment by e-mail from
Richard J. Davis:
Although I am neutral about
the subject, I do have a thought to consider.
In recent years it has become
fashionable to downplay the importance of American
citizenship, and the symbols related to it. More and more
we are told that this is an old fashioned view, and we don't
appreciate what others have to offer.
Let's stop for a few moments to
consider some of those countries. Just the other day a news
item noted that individuals were shot as they tried to
escape from North Korea. In many nations in the world
today, being a Christian means facing the prospect of brutal
treatment for being someone else's idea of an infidel.
This is not to suggest that
Americans as a group are candidates for sainthood. But we
do have the advantage of living in a country where we enjoy
freedom of religion. The American flag is a symbol of this
right, and having the flag in the sanctuary is a weekly
reminder that we have an obligation to preserve and protect
this right for others, as well as for ourselves.
|Flags in church: a student reports on
Some time ago we posted
notes in an e-mail conversation
on the question of the display of U.S. flags in church sanctuaries. We
recently received this interesting comment, based on empirical research,
from the college student:
I found your discussion from Google as I was researching
for a project on civil religion for a sociology class at Presbyterian
related Centre College. From my research of actually going to churches as
well as calling them, there are only two responses.
The first is that if a church regardless of denomination
has a flag in it, they don't know why they do and the same is true of
those churches that do not display the flag with one exception. Those
churches that don't display the American Flag were really not conscious
that they didn't until I asked them.
The exception is that with churches who have a very
developed theology which enters prominently into the life of the church
like the PCUSA and others even the Lutheran
Church Missouri Synod which is very conservative but say as a denomination
that it is not a supported practice but isn't something that the powers
that be dwell on.
I am an elder in my home congregation, and when I was on
the Session we removed the American Flag as well as the old PCUS flag
(even though it was 19 years after reunion) and moved them to Fellowship
Hall, and replaced the PCUS Flag with the PCUSA flag.
From a sociological perspective, for the most part it
seems that it is the denomination that has a stance on the issue, but when
it comes down to actual practice, it is usually a congregational issue
with not much attention paid to the issue.
Peace of Christ,
|What about the Flag in Church?
a conversation on PresbyNet
Check out a visitor's
helpful comment about keeping this issue in perspective. [12-5-01]
Recently in the "Witherspoon members"
meeting on PresbyNet, the Rev. Darlene Little raised a question
that has taken on new urgency these days: She was looking for an essay
she had seen some time ago, "on the why nots [and the how-to's] of
national flags in the sanctuary."
This question inspired a number of responses that seem
worth sharing in this wider circle of conversation.
Barbara Kellam-Scott, a member of the
Witherspoon executive board, responded quickly:
I don't know about a particular piece, but of course
my own why nots center on idolatry, especially around a pretty
ambiguous idol (aren't they all?). I can also, however, offer you my
favorite how-to, which came from the mouth of my own dear babe, my
elder son, Elder Christopher James Kellam Scott (now known as Kellam
as his given name) during his service on the session of the
Presbyterian Church at Franklin Lakes, NJ. He suggested we put the
flag right by the door, just inside, where it could be part of our
gathering in community, but most prominent as a reminder, as we left
to go back into the world, that we must carry with us into that world
what went on in the sanctuary.
Your WebWeaver went on a little Google
search [If you haven't tried it when looking for something to help you
write a sermon or find an article, you should!], which yielded an
interesting assortment of views on flags in the sanctuary. Here's a
three Presbyterian sources:
The Office of Theology and Worship of the PC(USA) offers
good theological look at the issue, concluding that
"since we profess God as sovereign, claiming our highest
allegiance, and since God's realm extends beyond the bounds of
any one nation, embracing all nations, it is preferable that no
national flag be displayed in a Christian place of
worship." (This was the document that Darlene Little
was looking for.)
Rev. James Ayers, writing in Presbyterians Today
in 1999, offered good thoughts, and briefer, in the "Q and
He says, "Whatever your view on saluting
the flag, the Christian perspective insists our true citizenship
is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), and our final loyalty and
allegiance are due to Jesus Christ himself - not to our nations,
not even to our families or ourselves (Luke 14:26)."
Last July Martha
Juillerat preached a sermon at St. Luke Presbyterian
Church, in Wayzata, MN, which explored some of the complex and
ambiguous meanings of the U.S. flag.
And from some other traditions:
Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) offers a critical look
at the dangers of displays of the American flag in the sanctuary
- and is pretty negative about the "Christian flag."
It also provides details of the proper display of the flag.
For the United
Methodist Church, the General Board of Discipleship
prepared a document (in 1993) that seems less worried about
displaying the flag, offering more practical and theological
reflection. It concludes, however: "To sum it up, we in
American wisely separate church and state. As American
Christians, we honor the cross and we honor the flag; but we
keep them separate. An American flag used in the worship of the
universal church is no more appropriate than hanging a cross in
a civil courtroom used by Americans of all religions."
For one Southern Baptist view:
A position paper by Bill White of the Baptist
Center for Ethics doesn't beat around the bush. (Or Bush?)
It begins, "I oppose the regular display of the United
States flag in worship."
Catholic Church, a U.S. bishops' Committee on the
Liturgy suggested on Sept. 26, 2001, that American flags
displayed in Catholic churches should be outside the sanctuary.
But they added that the ultimate decision on placement of flags
rests with the local bishop, or, if he chooses, the pastors.
(What, not the Session??)
Bob Dooling, a strong voice in the conservative
ranks of the PC(USA), joined in with this note:
This may surprise some of you, but I am fully in
agreement that national flags have no place in a Christian sanctuary.
After studying the issue, we removed the American flag from our
sanctuary seventeen years ago.
But on the other side, Jeff Book commented:
I'm concerned about a tone of ridicule toward
persons who support having a flag in church...
....about the repeated implication that those who
favor this are not as deep or as thoughtful about Christianity as are
those who oppose it...
....and about the presumption that political
motivations lie solely with those who favor having a flag.
Darlene Little responded:
I see no need for outside organizations to dictate
what the church has or does not have in the sanctuary. If after study
and consideration the session wishes to have them in the sanctuary
that's one thing. But if the only reason is to show support for
"my country right or wrong" then the flag has no place in
Jeff Book answered her thus:
What outside organization is attempting to dictate
what the church has in the sanctuary?
I've seen flags in sanctuaries my whole life, and I
have never received them as messages of "my country right or
I have received them as signs of respect and
affection for the nation and its people, and as reminders that we are
called to be good citizens of our country.
Witherspoon president Jane Hanna joined in,
basing her thoughts on the Theology and Worship paper:
On the subject of flags in the sanctuary: What I
have found most helpful as a guide has been what the Office of
Theology and Worship has written about this subject in the past. Look
Historically and symbolically neither of the flags
would seem to be of great importance. What people as individuals read
into these symbols is something else, but according to this website,
theologically it may be more correct to remove all flags from the
sanctuary itself. Personally I don't think too many people pay any
attention to either of the flags. Perhaps by removing them I'd learn
Darlene Little responded to Jeff Book:
The original question came from me, dealing with an
individual congregation and commenting based on the discussion within
Symbols take on a life of their own. I wish to have
the discussion on flags in the sanctuary based on something other than
the Boy Scouts think it should happen because of what's going on in
the world and to show our support of the actions of the President.
I realize this is a tender subject for you and
others--in fact for all of us. It need not polarize us, however, there
are a variety of viewpoints in the pews and in the pulpits. Decisions
should not be knee jerk reactions.
A final thought from your WebWeaver:
It's been reassuring to see that we Presbyterians can
differ and still be civil, about an issue which is obviously a very
sensitive one for many people these days.
urges us to keep this question in perspective
You know, Aztec [NM] Presbyterian has had a US flag in there for
as long as anyone can remember. We don't worship it, it is just
there as a symbol of many people's respect for our country. Not
all like it there, but there are more important things to worry
about. Budgets, caring for the sick and the elderly, caring for
each other, feeding those in need, speaking the word, worshiping
God, and loving our neighbors as our selves. You know - the
stuff Jesus called on us to worry about and the practical stuff
we have to worry about.
Yeah, this is just what we need - another
flash point. Another tempest in a teapot to soak up our energies
so that we ignore the relevant issues. You know - like peace,
justice, mission, outreach, and equity.
Seems to me that you are doing a great
disservice to God by worrying about such petty issues. Seems to
me you are just handing ammunition to Witherspoon's critics by
even wasting space on such an emotional issue. It is a battle
that, if fought, will cause you more harm than good.
Liberals care about our country and yes, many of
us care about the flag. A very wise person once told me to
choose my battles well. To fight only those that are worthy.
This tempest in a teapot that Witherspoon raises is a battle
best left alone.
Your WebWeaver responded:
Dear Joe -- Thanks for these thoughtful
comments about flags.
I appreciate the way you put this flag
question in perspective. My only addition would be to point out
that Witherspoon didn't raise this question -- it came from
someone in the Witherspoon meeting on PresbyNet, and I thought
we should respond to it.
And if you look at some of the sites mentioned
there, you'll see that lots of other folks -- right, left, and
center -- have been concerned about the same question.
Still, I DO agree with your basic point: there
are more important things to be doing!
Now it's your turn!
You've heard what others have to say. What would you like to contribute
to this exchange of thoughts and suggestions?
Please send a note!
And maybe this will encourage you to join in this and
other conversations on PresbyNet!
Go to the PC(USA) web site for information and help.
More on flags in church:
We appreciate the fact that people are still
offering helpful comments on this issue!
The latest comes from Tim Musser, of Cleveland, Ohio, who says, "Here is
the best piece I’ve ever seen on the issue - and not just for Catholics but
all Christians." He sends a link to an essay by the Rev. Emmanuel Charles
McCarthy, with the interesting title, "Sacerdotal
Flagism: Should the Flag Be Permanently Displayed in Church Sanctuaries
Or Other Explicitly Christian Environments?" [This four-page essay
is in PDF format.]
He opens with Jesus’ words: "My house will be called a
house of prayer for all peoples." (Mark 11:17) He builds his argument
against the display of the American flag (or that of any other nation) on
the Catholic Church’s traditional claim to be a truly universal church,
which means it must never identify itself with any single nation.
He writes: "The flag is a sign of the temporal, the
totally passing, the utterly perishable. The state is not an object of
redemption in the New Testament. Its existence is as fleeting as a cloud,
here today, extinct tomorrow." Good grief, is he talking about the US of A??
If you have thoughts or resources to share,
please send a
On church flags – a little more history
There is some history to the flags in churches. One does not typically
find national flags in churches overseas. In the United States the practice
seems to have developed during the Taft administration when the world was
heading toward WWI. Franklin Roosevelt issued a statement requesting
churches to have the flag placed in churches as we entered WWII. My memory
is that this was done reluctantly and at the advice of and pressure of
Secretary of War Stimson. The cross on the Christian flag is one inch taller
than the eagle on the American flag.
See the earlier discussion from about 3
years ago >>
If you have thoughts to add this conversation,
Just send a
note to be posted here.
Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City
Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon
board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!